Monday, March 25, 2013

BONUS WEEK!!!

Where to begin! Well thank you so much for the letters and emails and the love I feel everyday from your side of the world. Spring is blooming here in Kofu! We are going out to take pictures today of the Sakura (cherry trees) and all their snow-like blossoms. It is just as beautiful as everyone says! This is such a looked-forward-to season for everyone in Japan. I love experiencing the seasons. As the air warms and the flowers bloom there is a tangible feeling of hope and new beginnings in the air. Perhaps more so for those of us who hold in our hearts the hope of our Savior and the truth of his Resurrection. Trevor was good to remind me to turn me thoughts to him as we approach Easter. :) And Conference! Ah! I was thinking the other day that I'll probably end up listening to at least a few sessions in Japanese, and I wonder how much more I'll understand compared to October, and then I was like AH! Conferences are six months apart....which means I've added 6 months to my mission since the last Conference! That is insane. 
 
Speaking of Japanese and Conference....I was sitting next to the bishops wife in Relief Society yesterday as we studied the talk by David A. Bednar from October Conference. The teacher was writing up stuff on the board and I couldn't read the kanji so I asked the bishop's wife what something was and she read it out of the talk for me. A few minutes later I was taken aback, realizing that I understood every word she said, completely, and that compared to a few months ago church is so much more enjoyable. For a moment I felt elated and then quickly was overcome and humbled by an outpouring of gratitude as I realized that God lets me understand and has given me such an incredible gift. No I still don't know or speak Japanese perfectly, but for the most part, I understand, and I can connect with people through language. Their language. It is so beautiful! I started to cry right there (I'm telling you, being a missionary does something funny to my emotions, and I get all leaky) and my heart was so full. It is strange being at this part in my mission. I never  thought I would actually get here.

On that note...I really want to share something fantastic I learned from my mission president in my interview last week!! This was a huge light-bulb-on moment for me. I was asking his advice on how to make the most out of the last months of my mission, and how to really be the best I can be while I'm in a position to be a huge influence on the people around me. President Budge is an incredible person and has a head full of so much knowledge and experience, as well as a solid testimony of the gospel. We are so lucky to have him here! Anyway. He said he's been reading a book recently called 'Falling to Heaven' and it's got him pondering a lot about humility. He got up and wrote on the board 'Exact Obedience' then went on to explain that the Lord demands no less then exact obedience from his missionaries, and from members of the church. But....we are incapable of this. At one point or another, we fall short, we mess up, we miss the mark, and we 'fall short of the glory of God.' This is inevitable. So why does God ask us to '...be ye therefore perfect...' when it is impossible?

Next he opened up to Ether 12:27. We all know this scripture. He then said that when we hit those moments where we fall short, there are two choices we have of how to react. He wrote these on the board under 'exact obedience'. The two possibilities are: humble or humiliated. On the humiliated side, it is a hit to our pride. We turn inward and feel inadequate and feel sorry for ourselves and decide we aren't enough and can't do it. This is a downward spiral that is so easy for us to fall into! We feel like we aren't good enough. We feel like we can't do it. And we turn inward. This is actually a form of pride! We all know about the 'uppity' pride. This is the other side to pride. And it's not good!

Ok so now to humility. When we choose to be humble, we accept that we aren't enough on our own. We accept we aren't perfect. But we also acknowledge and give ourselves over to the grace of the Savior. Because he already paid the price. All of it. He doesn't just come down to the line of our very best; he comes down all the way. We humble ourselves before him, accept that even if we aren't enough, Christ is. We turn outward. And we draw a little closer to God. Somehow our falling short actually brings us nearer to Him.

I'm sure this isn't a new concept to you...but it was such an eye opener for me. I feel I've been searching a long time for the line between humility and beating ourselves up for not being good enough. There is a line. And now that I understand that we don't have to make ourselves miserable and feel worthless in order to be humble....it has become a sort of secret-to-happiness. Humility is beautiful! And I love to concept of 'falling to heaven.' I was so excited about this. Last week the two of us spoke in church on Sunday, directing our words to the up-and-coming missionaries, and this is what I spoke on. It was cool because a dude from the Stake spoke after us and elaborated on the same subject. Then the lesson is Relief Society was from Lorenzo Snow about becoming perfect one day at a time. Such an amazing lesson! What an incredible principle. Anyway...I really wanted to share that. :) It's been changing me drastically.

Now a little about my week...did I tell you last week about the 82 year old less-active we found right here in Kofu city? Well she was so pleased at our visit and invited us in her home. She used to be a super-active member and even talked about attending the temple weekly. She remembers the name of her missionary who baptized her 60 years ago...Elder Price from Utah. She still has the Book of Mormon and loves the church. We think she stopped coming because she can't drive on her own, most of her friends in the church have passed away, and her sons aren't members and won't bring her. Anyway we brought her to the relief society activity this past week, and she brought her 80 year old younger sister along. Her little sister, Hosaka Kikuko san, isn't a member but has apparently been to our church before in Hawaii. She is SUPER suteki, and an artist. She accepted a Book of Mormon and is already reading it, and told us to come over today. We are really excited about her. :)

You know the second Emily we told you about? Well she is back from France and met us for Indo Curry on Friday. We learned she was actually a music major (piano and voice) and loves music. At one point she got up to get a drink and Soda Shimai and I turned sneakily to each other and decided that maybe if we were singing in church on Sunday, she would come. When she came back to the table we announced that we were doing a special musical number on Sunday, and that she should come to English class that morning and then to Sacrament meeting to hear us right afterwards. She happily agreed. Haha. Later that night we called Brother Harada and then the bishop to ask if we actually could sing in Sacrament on Sunday....they said yes. And she came! We put together a pretty version of Come Thou Fount with the Elders, acapella, using both English and Japanese. After only practicing it once it actually turned out really well. Thank heavens for all the practice we get singing in the church!

The rest of the week was spent gardening with members, teaching English class, going to Japanese class, running around with members searching for less-actives, teaching a lesson on a train here, a lesson on the street there, and walking down dusty country roads amidst cherry tree orchards and Japanese temples. Unfortunately Satomi san got sick and wasn't able to come to church on Sunday. I've seen this over and over again on my mission. Someone makes a good decision, they start turning their sights and their footsteps down the right road, and Satan gets upset. Luckily his attempts are nothing compared to the love God has for his precious children. But he does get annoying!

On Tuesday after the temple Iida Shimai came to meet me. :) She looks wonderful! We had so much fun and enjoyed cherry-hamburgers and a lot of sunlight. Did you know that the day I come home will be her 1-year-anniversary of getting baptized? We are trying to get her temple goal set for the week before so that I will be able to come.

Well I'm sure I've written enough to get your eyes tired. I will send pictures soon. Some members in the ward are going to take us to a hill with over 2000 Sakura trees on it this week!
 
I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.
 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Off with the marshmallow jacket!!

So something interesting has been happening this transfer. The days have been getting shorter!! It's like magic...the days that seemed like months have changed to days that blow by like hours and months that come like days. Whenever I think about it I feel time is like wind blowing all around me, without thought or concern for the moments it blows away so quickly. Sorry for getting all poetic here, I guess what I'm trying to say is, time feels really strange!! There are moments where time stands still, like when a testimony is being borne or a commitment extended, those moments where you hold your breath as you watch people make decisions that you know will affect their eternity. Then there are the hours knocking, the 24 mile bike rides, the conferences, the trains, the nights where you lay up laughing together, the nights crying together, the phone calls, the study hours...they are all like wind blowing past your face and sending chills to your toes. One moment they are there. Then just a memory. It absolutely blows my mind that soon I'll be telling people I've been living in Japan for a year. Being a missionary really puts things in perspective, doesn't it? How time is only a measurement used by us mortals. How the only things that really matter are the gospel, our families, and loving our neighbors. Those are the things that withstand time. Those things are what never fade. Everything that I regret from before my mission stems from those three things; not being a better daughter and sister, not showing more love inside my home, not more purposefully pursuing an education  and bettering myself while I was young, and not being an influence on those whose lives I may have had power to touch.

This week was pretty intense. Monday was dinner with a member family and a long-time less active, Tuesday was stuck in our apartment until 4 while a new toilet was installed (it is INTENSE,) and then making an impulse decision that we wanted a piano for dendo more then we wanted to buy groceries for a month (TOTALLY carried it under my arm for the mile bike ride home,) Tuesday night didn't end until about 2:30 am after getting home from the hospital (not for me), Wednesday didn't start until about 10 am once we finally woke up after the long night, Thursday was driving out with Hosaka Shimai (our 73 year old grandmommy) to a nursing home to visit another member, where she proceeded to drive her car straight into 4 foot deep trench she didn't see in the parking lot (we saw it...luckily we and her car are fine...lol), Friday was a 24 mile bike ride to and from a less-active members home in Nirasaki, Saturday was a big blitz with the stake where we went out and dendoed with members in Hachioji (and I met, for the first time, a girl from Ukraine), and Sunday was as usual the miracle day of the week.

*breath* Okay so that is probably a lot to try and understand in one big breath, so let's calm down for a moment and talk about our miracle yesterday! Church was lovely as usual with our incredible ward family. Junpei made it to church this week (last week he got pulled over on his way there). Now that we have Elders in the area they are officially teaching him, but we are still friends. Emily helps me in Sacrament as I fumble around with my scriptures and notebook and electronic dictionary, trying to figure out what people are saying. When I can't find or spell a word I hand my dictionary to her and she types it in for me. Sacrament meeting has actually been a lot better these last two transfers. I don't fall asleep anymore!! And I can actually follow the speakers enough to take notes and understand the points of their talks. So anyway...after church and a few hours of putting together reports for the ward, we decided to go search for some long-time less actives. There wasn't much daylight left, and by the time we found the right neighborhood it was dark enough that addresses were hard to read. We couldn't find the home we were looking for and decided to knock on a random door and ask for help. We found an old old man in a big Japanese robe looking at us through huge coke-bottle (sp?) glasses, very surprised to find two gaijin on his porch. Well he happened to be an old man who was friends with the family we were looking for, and, being impressed with the Japanese we managed to spit out and feeling pity on us, he put on big cotton socks and slippers and started trekking down the road. We looked at each other and, with a shrug, followed after him. After a few blocks he walks into the yard of a traditional Japanese home, and starts knocking on their door. "Okubo! Hey! I've found two gaijin out looking for you!" Hahaha. We couldn't believe it. Well a man came to the door and our guide hustled away, and invited us into the genkan. His wife ran away into the kitchen but he sat and talked with us for about half an hour. He was really pleased at our visit, and said he felt something as we talked to him. He hasn't been to church in 40 years. His parents were against the church. But (get this timing!) his parents both passed away this year. He still has a Book of Mormon. He wants us and the Elders to come to his house again so he can help us learn kanji. And we really think he may even come back to church. He was the only home we made it to that night. Everything about finding him was a miracle. Things like that leave no room for doubt that God is leading this work!

So life moves on here in Kofu. :) I am happy. So excited for spring. It got so warm this week we haven't even used jackets. Three more weeks of the transfer, and much to be done! Hitomi san wasn't able to meet with us last week because her son got super ill (of course) but is scheduled to come see us this Friday, and is super excited. We are too.

I love you all so much! On we go!
 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Haru ga kite imasu!!

I have SO much awesome news to share with you this week! I don't even know where to begin. After going through a week full of personal battles of self-confidence and fending off Satan's little esteem-minions....I am looking back in awe at the blessings that just rained from heaven. It fills my heart. And as a missionary from the field during this great and long-prophesied (sp?) time, I am here to tell you that the gathering is hastening! I had a few moments this week where something would happen and the Spirit would absolutely rage through my soul like the wind and my heart would burn and I just knew that I am standing here in the front lines to witness the Lord gather His people. I wish, oh I wish I could send a taste of it home...but then I realize that we're all on the front line. This is happening all over the world, and extends even to that world beyond. Through temples that are flooding the earth I feel the heavens are drawing closer, and the gathering is taking place on both sides of the veil. What an incredible time to be alive! And it's not going to slow down.

I had the incredible opportunity this past week to gather with the missionaries and be taught by Elder Russel M. Nelson, who came with his wife to visit our mission. There were about 160 of us in a little chapel with him. Having been in the choir, I was on the second row. The experience was everything we could've hoped for it to be, and more. His daughter is married to the area seventy and lives there in Tokyo, so she and her husband also spoke to us. He taught us, encouraged us, answered our questions, and left us with an apostolic blessing. I think when missionaries meet with an apostle in such a personal setting, it is an experience like no other. 160 young men and women, absolutely reverent and focused and upright in our seats for hours, listening to the words of an apostle of the Lord. I felt strongly that just as Peter and James and John and the Nephite apostles who wrote the scriptures were powerful representatives of the Lord, the man standing before us was of no lesser standing. It was fantastic.

Something he told us to do was write down the numbers of the Japanese stakes and wards and members, and hold onto it until we have grandchildren. He said when we read it to them in the next few decades, we will see as perhaps no other generation has seen, the Lord's hand and the hastening of the work.

The other big miracle this week happened on Sunday, as Kanari Shimai from Machida was baptized! She made it!! Do you remember her? She was one of our investigators that was working with us all 4 transfers I served in Machida. She was the one who couldn't get up the hill to the church. Well, she made it. Through the power of the Book of Mormon and the love of the members, she overcame every odd set against her.  A little about her background. She was married and has five children, 1 of which was born with severe autism. When her children were still fairly young her husband walked out on her, leaving her and their kids absolutely nothing. She fought to stay above water for years but eventually was overcome with pain from the past and fell into deep depression. Some of her kids grew old enough to live on their own, and the younger ones were taken away by the government and put into facilities. For years she has been alone. She was found by the missionaries in 2011. Actually her first missionaries were Tomura Shimai and her trainer. She grasped onto the hope she felt from the gospel but was still being crushed by a past she couldn't let go of. Crippled by mental illness, and her ever declining living conditions, she gave up on the church for a while. After some months she says she was beginning to get so angry at the pain people had caused her, that she was going to take drastic actions. The same week the anger finally pushed her over the edge, the missionaries came again to her door. From that point on she began letting them into her life. They helped her clean her house and then started offering her the hope only the gospel could give. But her progress was slow. When I came into the picture she couldn't come to church on her own and was taking multiple drugs daily to deal with her physical condition. She would always say yes to baptismal date, but time after time wasn't able to reach her goal. Although her progress was slow or sometimes seemingly non-existent, her desire to change was always there. I think it was because of that desire that God keep us in her life. I remember Sister Takei had so much faith in her. I followed her lead in pouring out our hearts to try and help this daughter of God find her way back. She made it to church a handful of times while I was there, and even once on her own. But her situation was still dark. I am ashamed to say that when Takei Shimai first left I thought about dropping her because I didn't feel like she was going to make it. But, thank the heavens, something in my heart just wouldn't let me let her go. Honestly, the Spirit would not allow me to stop meeting with her. Finally with Oseki Shimai we got her reading the Book or Mormon daily. It was amazing because when Kanari san read and prayed she always felt a night-and-day difference. The gospel light affected her so much. But the adversary was so strong in her life! Well after I left she bumped up to reading 30 minutes every single day. Miracles started happening. She was brighter. Her back stopped hurting. She was able to let go of all the anger and hurt from her past and lay it at the feet of the Savior. When I saw her at Uyama Shimai's baptism, the light her countenance had doubled. Last week, at last, she passed her baptismal interview, and this last Sunday was baptized. I sadly was not able to attend because of money and responsibilities here in Kofu, but oh the Spirit just fills my heart when I think of it. I am so so sad I couldn't go! Missing the baptisms of those you love is such a hard thing as a missionary. But the joy I feel that she, a precious daughter of God, and MY SISTER, has come into Christ's arms is huge. What a miracle. I learned so much from being a part of her life. God was there with her. His children are SO PRECIOUS TO HIM. Every one. Every single one.

Time for the next miracle! Seriously I come to write you sometimes and I am flooded with emotions as I realize the tender mercies the Lord shows me in my life. Last week a member in our ward brought her friend and her little 5 year old son to church. Her name is Hitomi san. Hitomi is a miracle child! Apparently she came to a ward activity last year and has just been WAITING for Sister Hoshi to invite her to church! When she found that out Sister Hoshi was a little embarrassed that it took her so long, haha. Well Hitomi and her son both loved church and were there again this week. We were able to spend more time talking with her and she at one point asked, 'How does one go about joining this church??' Are there any words sweeter in the ears of a missionary???? We told her we wanted to start meeting with her and she was so cute and worried because she's sure we are 'so busy!' All the while Sister Soderborg and I are thinking, 'There is not a missionary in Japan that is too busy for you sweetheart!!' We told her we were free on Wednesday. She said, 'I drop my son off at the bus at 10....I'll be here at 10:30!' We are so excited to start working with her. The work is hastening!! I testify of that with all my heart.

I was on splits this last week and there were people coming up to US on the train asking 'Hey are you the Mormon missionaries??' I could not believe it!!! Haha BTW on splits I was with a little Japanese sister named Sister Taneda. She is on transfer three right now. She is SO MUCH like Sister Tomura I could not believe it! They are even friends. Her hair is the same, her personality identical, and her work ethic is through the roof. I thought, you know, me being on 8 and her being on 3 that I'd be leading her around but NOPE she was on FIRE and I was just grateful for the energy to keep up with her! I felt I was with Sister Tomura again, it was crazy.

So this is already longer then anyone probably wanted to read, but if you made it this far, thanks for staying with me! Mom and Dad I love you so much and I miss you to pieces. Thank you so much for everything you did to get me here. I would not be here with out you. Please please pray for Hitomi and her little son. She is a single mom and so anxious to find peace from her past and bring her son into the light of the gospel. It is such a good place for him and he recognizes that. If she joins the church he will be raised in the gospel. This is such a critical time for them. Every prayer brings so much power! I know your prayers have blessed the lives of my precious friends so much already.